Software Doesn’t Solve Social Problems

I listened to the audio book copy of “The Courage To Be Disliked” last year. It’s written as a discussion between a philosopher and a young man, about the concepts of Adlerian psychology, and there’s a great deal of real wisdom there.

One of the key points, is that Adler considered all problems we face as humans, to be issues of interpersonal relationships. The more this is argued in the book, the more it becomes obvious that this is true.

Often in technology, engineers strive to solve problems with the best technical solution, because of a deep belief in a given path, being superior to others.

Technologists lack pragmatism.

I see it over and over – from the nuclear power proponents, who just can’t understand why countries and governments haven’t invested more in liquid thorium reactors (which would clearly, solve all our energy needs overnight), to the software security engineers who can’t understand why people don’t use 128 character passwords, or worry more about TLS cert validity.

In “Abolish Silicon Valley“, there’s a strong argument that much of tech is now created for it’s own sake. People in Silicon Valley see a cool piece of tech, or idea, and instead of asking what human problem it solves, they ask what business model it should have. Instead of “how do I make people’s lives better”, they start with “how do I make money.” This obsession with tech for techs sake, led by highly privileged and well paid engineers has damaged the potential of brilliant technologies.

Instead of technology making people’s lives better, the paradigm has been flipped – people use technology to improve the lives of technologists.

Of all the many problems that we are facing – silicon valley has tackled none of them:

  • Access to reliable and accurate information
  • Access to food and drinking water for all human beings
  • An accountable democracy, with tools to help citizens engage constructively
  • An accountable private sector, with open and accurate data on company balance sheets

Technology in theory could help solve all of these problems, instead it’s more recently been used to create unprofitable gig economy apps like Uber, with false accounting and attacks on worker rights.

Technologists need to, and can do better. We need to stop taking money from shady venture capitalists and start asking what problem the latest vapourware startup actually solves.

Instead of getting developers to write algoithms encouraging us all to spend increasingly more of our time on devices watching cat videos, perhaps we could spend some of our valuable education making tools that actually fix real social problems.


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